Hands off our bread!

by Peasant organisations, networks, social movements, research groups and socio-environmental collectives | 5 Nov 2020

The government of Argentina just approved the world’s first genetically modified (GM) wheat and is ready to promote its widespread use (subject to Brazil’s approval, as they are the first recipient of Argentine wheat exports).

The authorised GM wheat is called HB4 (wheat IND-ØØ412-7) and has two characteristics: resistance to drought and tolerance to the herbicide glufosinate-ammonium. It was authorised by the Department of Food, Bio-economics and Regional Development of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries on 7 October in Resolution 41/2020 and published in the 9 October Official Gazette.

With this authorisation, agribusiness is further encroaching on the food of our peoples and on our agriculture, which we cannot accept and so we are forced to denounce and resist it by all possible means.

For this reason, we demand that the national government reverse the authoritarian measure that can only be explained as submission to corporate interests.

This is why we briefly outline the reasons for rejecting this GM wheat from many perspectives that force us to say: Hands off our bread!

Hands off our bread!

Below is the English translation of the petition form from this link: Hands off our bread!

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1. Because GM wheat will multiply the consumption of agro-toxins

GM crops that are tolerant to herbicides multiply the consumption of these agro-toxins, as they were developed for this purpose. The use of agro-toxins has exponentially increased since the introduction of GM crops, which demonstrates the false discourse with which they were imposed. More than 525 million litres of agrotoxins are used in Argentina each year; the new authorisation will lead to an even higher increase in the use of these compounds that are highly harmful to human health.

2. Because the approved wheat is tolerant to a herbicide that is even more toxic than glysophate

Glufosinate-ammonium is even more toxic than glysophate, and it is widely questioned and prohibited in many countries due to its high acute toxicity and its teratogenic, neurotoxic, genotoxic and cholinesterase altering effects. In addition to being an herbicide, it has insecticide properties. It is highly toxic to beneficial organisms including spiders, predatory mites, butterflies, and numerous soil microorganisms, and it can increase the plant's susceptibility to disease, with the subsequent increase in the use and dependence on agrotoxins. It is toxic to some aquatic organisms and can increase nitrogen leaching from soils. In sandy soils, glufosinate is persistent and mobile.

3. Because it will expose our people to the year-round fumigation of agrotoxins

Wheat is a winter crop. Until now, widespread fumigation with agrotoxins was limited to the spring and summer seasons (although they are also applied at the end of winter as “chemical ploughing”). Applying glufosinate-ammonium will lead to fumigation with this highly toxic herbicide in wintertime, when the susceptibility to respiratory diseases is even greater.

4. Because a new poison will be present in our daily bread

Wheat is the basis of the Argentine diet and of a very large part of humanity: it is used to make bread and many of our meals, which are based on its flours (other baked goods, empanadas, pizzas, pasta, cakes, among others). As a result of this authorisation, wheat will have residues of glufosinate that will be incorporated into flours and their derivatives. That is to say, there will be a presence of this substance in basic foods for daily consumption, an unprecedented situation in the history of our country – meaning the entire population will be exposed to the intake of this poison in their daily diet.

5. Because it will contaminate all wheat crops

A large percentage of wheat is self-fertilised, but it does also cross with neighbouring crops, as is the case with soybeans. Scientific data point to crossings of between 1 and 14%.
Entrepreneurs and their allies explain why we do not need to be in opposition, “those who don’t want to shouldn’t to adopt the technology”. With solid grounds, we can affirm that once the GM crop varieties are unleashed, within a few years they will be disseminated through cross-pollination and through the illegal sale of seeds. If this happens, we will be exposed to the madness of having our national wheat contaminated and the possibility that they can sue us for wanting to “steal their technology”. It is impossible to maintain traceability by separating the production and distribution chains between conventional and GM wheat.

6. Because this wheat has been developed in order to continue using the technological package (direct sowing and intense use of agrotoxins) that has already shown the damages it produces, and therefore must be completely reconsidered

Even the Food and Agriculture Organisation just affirmed that “we have reached the limit of the paradigm of the Green Revolution” and that achieving sustainable agriculture requires an integrated approach. Today, GM organisms are the best embodiment of the Green Revolution paradigm and the main challenge we have as humanity is to move towards agroecological production that is free of poisons and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

7. Because it uses an extreme climate phenomenon – drought – as a false argument to introduce a technology with dubious effectiveness

Plants activate different sets of genes throughout their lifecycle, and the incorporation of a single gene could hardly define the manifestation of resistance mechanisms. On the one hand, the insertion of an additional gene should not be interpreted as sufficient to alter different metabolic cycles, since genes work in sets. We have over 100,000 characteristics and only about 30,000 genes to define them; many of these genes are shared with other beings such as mice, fish, birds and even insects. On the other hand, the drought “is not the same” because the plant “is not exactly the same” in the phase of germination, sprouting, flowering, grain formation, etc. Thus, a gene that would allow better behaviour in response to a lack of water in one phase would not help in the same way in another phase. Moreover, the possibility of slowing down the development of a phase to reduce the stress due to water shortage can harm rather than help the plant in the event that the drought does not occur. In addition, it would hardly be useful if the drought took place during a different period, when this gene is not active. A concrete fact is that studies to obtain drought-resistant plants in the United States have been abandoned due to lack of success.

8. Because they are part of the destruction of the science and technology system that they claim to defend

Because we need Argentine science to hear the voices of change and support the processes of agroecology and food sovereignty that exist today in the hands of peasant organisations and family farmers. We need an independent science that denounces the actions of agribusiness in the health, environmental, and economic spheres. We reject the complicity of the scientific sectors that, under the umbrella of Argentina’s scientific and technical research council (CONICET), are partners of biotechnology corporations. These academics are responsible for the consequences that their “developments” produce in the territories (more clearing of forests, health impacts, among others).

9. Because we don’t want to eat GM food

Argentina does not have GM labelling. Agribusiness and food processing corporations know well that the Argentine people do not want them, do not choose them, and that is why they do not allow the labelling of food that contain GMOs. The idea of “substantial equivalence” (a corporate argument that says that GMOs are the same as conventional foods) is a myth created by scientists who are paid by corporations. Therefore, nothing guarantees that the bread we eat would be the same in its characteristics and in the impacts on our bodies as bread made with conventional wheat.

10. Because these authorisations do not emerge from spaces that are independent of corporate sectors

Argentina’s advisory commission on biotechnology (CONABIA) recommends the approval of GMOs, and the agro-food safety and quality service (SENASA) authorises the use of agrotoxins. These are examples of conflict of interest. Both entities are controlled or influenced by representatives of corporations that produce and sell GMOs and agrotoxins.
CONABIA maintained its composition a secret for many years. Today we know that it always had a majority corporate membership, meaning that all this time corporations with conflicts of interests have regulated themselves. While its composition was modified in March 2020, its approval of GM wheat took place with its earlier composition. SENASA has no laboratories of its own; instead, it validates the reports submitted by the corporations themselves. There are 107 pesticides in use in Argentina that are prohibited in other countries, 36 of which are considered “highly dangerous” by the World Health Organisation.

11. Because GM crops promote monocultures and these degrade ecosystems and food sovereignty

Let’s imagine that GM wheat was not resistant to glufosinate and it was possible to avoid the use of this agrotoxin. The highly publicised and promised “drought resistance” is sold as an advantage for producers. GM wheat is coming for what is left of the destruction of our forests and wetlands. GM crops today only serve to create profits for a few. They are not needed to ensure any rights of peoples. On the other hand, it is impossible not to consider that the droughts that are hitting the region are precisely the result of the imposed agricultural model.

12. Because the world has already rejected GM wheat

Following rejection by various sectors of the North American wheat market (e.g. the Canadian Wheat Council), Monsanto withdrew its glyphosate resistant wheat in 2004, recognising that “as a result of our portfolio review and dialogue with wheat industry leaders, we recognise the business opportunities with Roundup Ready spring wheat are less attractive relative to Monsanto’s other commercial priorities”. The diverse sectors of the Argentine wheat market are giving the same warning now.

A group of organisations in the wheat chain in Argentina stated, “The damage to the Argentine wheat market would be irreparable and irreversible, since contamination will spread and segmentation is not feasible”. This position was adopted by the following organisations: The Grain Exchanges of the provinces of Buenos Aires, Bahía Blanca, Córdoba, Chaco, Entre Ríos and the Santa Fe; the Rosario Stock Exchange; the Chamber of Industrial Milling; grain export centres; the corridors centre; the milling industry federation; the collectors; and the four entities of the liaison table (CRA, Coninagro, FAA y Argentine rural society). The Argentine wheat association ARGENTRIGO has also voiced its concern about this approval.

As has the Brazilian milling industry, which conducted an internal survey showing that 85% is not in favour of using GM wheat and 90% s would be prepared to stop purchasing Argentine wheat.

13. Because it is part of the intentions of transnational corporations to impose their seeds law

The corporate groups are already announcing that the authorisation of this wheat must be followed by a modification of the current seeds law to ensure the returns on the “research investments” made by the scientific and corporate groups involved.

14. Because it will lead to an increase in weeds that are tolerant and resistant to agrotoxins

We have already surpassed 40 herbicide-resistant weeds in our country, which creates complications in crop management, as well as increased production costs.
Wheat production in our country does not have significant problems with weeds (as it is a dense crop, a naturally good competitor, and because it grows in winter when the number of weeds is low). Therefore, there is no justification for a glufosinate-ammonium tolerance event.
Many events have already been approved for soybeans and maize that are tolerant to glufosinate-ammonium and other agrotoxins. Unleashing GM wheat that is tolerant to glufosinate-ammonium will complete the cycle of permanent use of this herbicide throughout the entire year. This will speed up the emergence of weeds that are tolerant and resistant to glufosinate-ammonium, making weed control to grow other crops more difficult (in summer and winter).

15. Because the procedures for approving GM crops were not adapted based on the recommendations of the National Auditor General, thus the approval is invalid

The National Auditor General’s Report N° 064/2019 highlighted the serious deficiencies that exist in the control of GM events, which also ignore social and environmental impacts, as well as the biodiversity risks. In addition, it concluded that the way in which GMO use is approved in Argentina is non-transparent and incomplete, it disregards international conventions, violates environmental laws and violates the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Far from adapting this regulatory framework, the commercial approval of this GM event went ahead, through this flawed procedure, which makes that administrative act absolutely null and void.

16. Because the approval process of this GM event did not ensure citizen participation

Citizens did not have the opportunity to participate in the approval process of this GM event, which is a violation of the National Constitution and international human rights treaties with constitutional status, further contributing to the nullity of the administrative act.
In addition, it is now openly stated that the decision is in the hands of Brazil, when Argentina is one of the countries that has most incorporated wheat and its derivatives into its food consumption.

17. Because the authorisation goes against the recommendations of international human rights mechanisms to our country

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Food, Hilal Elver, following her official visit to Argentina – in 2018 and 2019 respectively – urged the country to reduce the use of agrotoxins. The authorisation clearly goes against both recommendations, which exposes our country to being held accountable internationally for violations of our human rights obligations.

18. Because the authorisation impedes agroecology and organic agriculture, which the national government claims it wants to promote

A large portion of extensive agroecological and organic production in our country resorts to wheat. Introducing a GM variety of wheat into the environment, with the above-mentioned risks of crossbreeding and contamination on the way to its commercialisation, makes the effective protection of these productions difficult if not impossible, and there is the added risk of losing their markets in the future.

19. Because the wheat market will suffer a negative impact

The authorisation of this event, added to the impossibility of avoiding crossbreeding and ensuring traceability, will generate mistrust and rejection from the domestic market and other international markets, which in turn will generate a negative commercial impact on the wheat chain in our country.

These commercial reasons are what led even the government of Mauricio Macri – which approved the most GMOs in history – to withdraw its commercial approval.

20. Because although the event has a national origin, it constitutes a surrender to transnational capital

Beyond its national origin, Bioceres Corporation has its subsidiary, Bioceres Crop Solutions Corp, listed in the New York Stock Exchange; it has strategic alliances with Syngenta/Chemchina, Valent, and Dow Agrosciences, and has Monsanto among its shareholders. In addition, although CONICET and the national university of the littoral participated in the development of the event and each holds 30% of the patents on it, they granted Bioceres an exclusive commercialisation license for its rights, representing another handout to large transnational capital. On the other hand, rejection of GMOs goes far beyond where their development originated.

There is an urgent need to discuss in depth what agricultural model we need as a country, to implement the proposals made by the 2019 Agricultural Forum, and to void the resolution that enables the production of GM wheat.

NO to GM wheat in Argentina.


Author: Peasant organisations, networks, social movements, research groups and socio-environmental collectives
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